Recreational Arabic

 

Some decades ago I read  the confessions of a language fanatic — she was unapologetic about toting foreign language books to the beach. I have not been able to find that article on the internet, actually any article about readers who find escape that way, now my interest really piques.

Speaking of piquing, here is a peek at two vacationers who look upon language references as beach books, but they’ve chosen different dictionaries to read. That’s what I do — just ask Lisa. Last minute check before leaving the house: have I packed enough language tomes?

hans.wehr.reading
Oxford to the left of us, Wehr to the right.

I’ve affixed Arabic-alphabet stickers to my keyboard to make life easier — electronic text editors know how to connect the letters correctly and smoothly. However it is important to write by hand while learning Arabic, it’s akin to hiding the calculator while memorizing multiplication tables.

Left-handers are accustomed to covering up what they write as they write, so it’s revealing to actually see my writing without contorting my writing hand. Calligraphic design is already demanding work. The Roman alphabet is as clumsy as Roman numerals, isn’t it? They did not even have minuscules available to lighten things up, perhaps they just liked to SHOVT a lot. Well, it is true, to paraphrase John Cleese, that they had an empire to run. There is that.

Methinks their alphabet was fashioned with stone-chiseling in mind.

alan-dunn-does-ex-take-the-ablative-or-the-dative-new-yorker-cartoon
Does  “ex” take the ablative or the dative?

As a left-handed calligraphic hobbyist I have to lift my hand frequently to know what is happening. Arabic calligraphy flows from designs inherent in the alphabet. Rather than arranging letters chosen from A to Z, you recognize the minute detail that permits extravagantly wild art with unambiguous pen strokes. This allows the pen wielder to proceed without limit, a dot or two or three makes everything explicable.

However you’ll experience heightened subtlety when you include the ten diacritical marks available in Arabic script. Reading a text that contains the full range of marks gives the writer and the reader a means of communication faithful and considerate of each.

The Art of Arabic Calligraphy (YouTube)

These ten marks are omitted in normal written communication. The small fonts selected for most published works also make text too busy. How do you critically distinguish letters and words if diacriticals are in the way. Once you have seen an Arabic word a hundred times it is hardly necessary to bludgeon a reader with something she already understands quite well.

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Of course this is why those marks only appear in scriptural texts or instructional language books. Clarity is critical, each and every millimeter of the way. The author cannot assume that a reader has seen each word hundreds of times already. I personally recommend acquiring the incomparable Sugar comes from Arabic.

Back to Wehr. Arabic is based upon a system of roots: constant consonantal characters in a specific sequence: A SaFaRi into the SaHaRa. The most useful Arabic-English dictionaries are organized by root. Looking up those roots is not easy for a beginner. Now there are ingenious online sources and mobile apps available to grease the learning process.

Learn from your mistakes. I often encouraged my German students that way —the learner who makes the most mistakes gets the most gold stars 🙂

Thanks for reading.

 

Sugar Comes From Arabic

Nothing melts my heart so thoroughly as receiving a kind letter from a favorite author.

sugar.comes.from.arabic

Recently, I suggested, kind readers, that you visit a link to a valuable resource. To a book that inspired me to learn Arabic well — Sugar comes from Arabic by Barbara Whitesides. It is as sweet as Arabic coffee. I encourage you to obtain a copy as early as humanely possible.

Select a tea or Arabic coffee and get ready to savor marvelous things. Fetch a writing instrument and some lined paper, or the back of an envelope. The book is comfortable to the eagerly flipping hand. Very often overlooked by lesser binders — it has a freely moving ring-binder format. Lay it open, lay it to one page. It doesn’t fall to the floor. It doesn’t require paper weights — a very important feature in a language book!

Discover a world where mere writing takes on the freedom and skill of the gymnast. A language a world away from the 26 offerings of the English you are reading now.  Latin letters of Roman device (Latin Alphabet A-Z).

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Did you know that a proper Latin alphabet possesses not the merest of minuscules? Have you observed that curved lines are quite literally ANATHEMA to the words of Latin? Writing with ALL CAPS connotes shouting in the language Troll.

Somehow I feel it likely that you are reading this while attached to the internet.

Might you have read this far, I admire your patience. Perhaps you’ve only now viewed this olde bloge o’ mine. I thank you for reading, and I’ll thank you again at the end of this post.

Roman numerals are now seen at the opening frames of older films, e.g. MCMIX (quite a number of famous Hollywood releases in 1939 (to have already given away conversion of MCMIX). The only other use is to promote a bowl of befouled fowl body parts in the cold cave of early February.

Proceed you now to several pages:

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Mnemonics aids learning, it’s one way to hold onto fragile new knowledge while it attempts to land safely and securely in long-term memory.

Here I am quoting myself in a letter to Barbara —

Quote:

Your kind letter has made my year 🙂 Thank you so much for reading my article. You never know just how far your words can travel.
I am writing a series on my discoveries in Arabic and I want to share how much Sugar Comes from Arabic helped me overcome the daunting challenge that mastering its script represented. Now I find myself enthralled by each encounter — from the unexpected thrill of gently pulling the pen along the paper rather than plowing into the paper, then immediately covering it up in the “normal” way that my left-handedness dictates in left-to-right English.
I taught German for many years and know how limited and mundane many methodologies simply are. Bringing language alive doesn’t just happen. My introduction to Arabic began with one of my Palestinian students. I still have the slip of paper that became my introduction. Finding your book was the next discovery that piqued my interest and resolve to keep at it.
Well it seems that I am already writing the next in that series of Arabic discoveries by composing this reply. So I return to the SaFaRi into the desert that is the blank page — a SaHaRa 🙂

:End Quote

Let’s check out another page:

sugar.j.png

Here’s a rhetorical question: Why do so many books on Arabic use small and grainy fonts?

Arabic script is a joy. Barbara Whitesides’ book is both beautiful and inspiring.

Thanks for reading.

A SaFaRi into the SaHaRa

My last detour took us to a Picnic (pique-nique in French) in 1934 Grange, Pennsylvania. Here is a footnote to that previous post has ended up in the opening paragraph for this post. You may not have wondered about the Yiddish word shtick . It’s from the German noun Stück (a piece).  

What’s your shtick, Bill?

Yakking  on about different ways to yak away. 

There is just something exhilarating about learning languages. aha-momentHere are three (3) remarkable benefits: 

  1. remove barriers,
  2. erase borders and, if fortune favors,
  3. become less baffled

We’re glad that you are taking a safari into the Sahara. Please tell us less.

Root letters in Arabic do something quite curious. They occur in an ordained order. Here is a root you may have noticed in the title  — SFR. Arabic dictionaries segment meaning through a root system. Grab that Arabic dictionary over there and flip away until you’ve encounter SFR,  see below.

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Don’t forget to read from right to left.

Bill, are you going to tell us about a book that teaches Arabic with aplomb?

Yes.

I want to share how much Sugar Comes from Arabic by Barbara Whitesides helped me master Arabic, and have a rollicking time at the same time. It’s an amazingly beautiful ring-bound volume that is simply delightful. As with all my reviews, I just want to pass on good words for great works. It’s what teachers do.

Calligraphy is one of those hobbies I’ve hobbled through with my left-hand. Now I can’t overestimate the unexpected thrill of gently pulling the pen along my paper — no plowing into the paper, or covering up writing while writing.  You may have noticed that English is written from left-to-right.

Let us consider prefixes, suffixes and diacritical marks. Hey you say, there are bunches of words having such and much to do with “travel” in Arabic — words like safari.Hey I say, the Arabic root for desert is SHR. Technically, the Sahara Desert suggests Desert Desert. Here is a fun web page for those wanting yet another resource on Arabic verb forms.sahara

Well that was breathtakingly tedious, but we needed to yawn in order to dispel stale air. But you were heading into a desert, please proceed.

Interesting innit?

 

Here’s another innit —

arabic-sound-heuristic
Here is a useful diagram for associating alphabet whats and wheres. I’ve found it helpful for distinguishing the “sun and moon” letters in Arabic.

Didn’t you write a toss-off post a while back — just trying to change the subject.

Yes — Sudden solitude in a crowded desert, based on a line from T.S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion.

Thanks for reading.